We talk to members of the Finest Hour development team about various aspects of the upcoming WWII shooter.
Call of Duty: Finest Hour is a World War II-inspired first-person shooter in which you'll assume the roles of six different characters as you progress through Russian, British, and American campaign missions. The game is being developed for all current-generation consoles at Spark Unlimited, a company that comprises some 30 members of the original Medal of Honor development team. We recently had the opportunity to speak with four key members of the Spark team about its current project. These members included: Scott Langteau, COO and producer; Jack Grillo, audio director; Jonathan Gregerson, art director; and Dave Prout, lead artist.
GameSpot: How is development going? What exactly is the team working on, mostly, right now?
Scott Langteau: Development is progressing very well. We are working on testing and focus group feedback, fixing bugs, and focusing on all of those last-minute adjustments. After over two years in the making...we're thrilled Call of Duty: Finest Hour is almost in the hands of gamers everywhere!
GS: What's been the biggest challenge in achieving the level of graphic quality we see in the game across the various platforms?
Dave Prout: In constructing the epic scenes and battlefield environments in Finest Hour, we set out to put a special focus on 3D composition. To really excel at this, you need the flexibility to have lots of detail all over the screen in any direction, which poses significant technical challenges on the current generation of hardware. With the smallest memory budget the environment team has ever had on this sort of project, we needed to come up with new ways to break up the world that [would] make the player's world come alive, and [we needed to] deliver the epic scope and cinematic effect [typical of a Call of Duty game]. Fortunately, we delivered these technical specs early enough to our exporter and graphics engineers to get some basic tools that gave us the flexibility we were looking for. But it still required a lot of manual work on the artists' end to make it happen. And that's one of the things we're most pleased with. [There are] lots of distant vistas dressed from foreground to background; [we] staged character-dominant scenes with custom lighting setups; [and we] utilized the basic foundation of light and shadow as our approach to visual design--all of which provides a fresh, powerful backdrop to the intensity and action that fills the screen from one side to the other, from Stalingrad to Tunisia [and] all the way to Aachen.
Jonathan Gregerson: I think that getting the right balance of volume and quality was the biggest challenge that we had from the art side in Finest Hour. The sheer number of features that we were going to need to host in the battles, such as Stalingrad or Aachen, for example, required a large number of art assets that had to be designed for efficiency, as well as [for] complementing the totality of the other visuals the player would experience. While our designers were challenged with finding the right balance between artificial intelligence-driven gameplay and scene-driven gameplay, our challenge, from the art side, was more about where to put our emphasis and what to allocate more memory to--[especially] when so many things are fighting for that 6MB or so of memory you have to work with.
In the past, some of the games that we've worked on have had the advantage of being more linear, and, as a result, lighting and staging (things that are very near and dear to us) were less complicated, because the player path through a level was simplified. In Call of Duty: Finest Hour, I think that our challenge was to attempt to create the richness of these worlds and the experiences we wanted to re-create while being able to provide multiple well-staged experiences--regardless of the player path--that would have the biggest experiential impact possible. This about killed us...but we're still here...and can't wait for players to give it a go.
GS: The Making Of video talks about the level of detail in the sound production. What sorts of things has the team done? And what benefits can fans look forward to with the audio and sound in Finest Hour?
Jack Grillo: Early on in production, I spent a lot of time doing various field recordings. I went to battle reenactments, held a number of actual weapons-recording sessions (where we recorded everything, including shooting into sides of beef to capture impacts), and usually even took the field-recording equipment with me on vacation. So, for example, the snow footsteps and body falls in Finest Hour are from a trip I took to Big Bear Lake in California last winter. I try to record everything for each game I work on from scratch, because that gives me a unique palette to work from. Of course, I made extensive use of prerecorded sound effects libraries [as well]. But wherever possible, I recorded the sounds for Finest Hour myself.
During production, the engineering department made every effort to expose the sound implementation to the audio team (which consists of Caleb Sweazy and me). Oftentimes, a sound designer's responsibilities end when the raw sounds are delivered, but I find that approach to limit the quality of the sound considerably. Russ Bernau, our audio engineer, created a number of custom tools that allowed my team to experiment with sound implementation across all categories (weapons, footsteps, backgrounds, dialogue, etc.). Being able to see the process through (creating sound, implementing sound, testing in context, starting from scratch), I believe, is essential to sound design for compelling and exciting video games--like Finest Hour.
The music was composed and recorded later in the process. This allowed our composer, Michael Giacchino, to study Finest Hour in a (close to) complete state [to] create music that fit everything, moment to moment. He used an 80-piece orchestra and a 50-piece choir, resulting in a score that is powerful, emotional, or suspenseful, depending on the specific moments. This enables us to capture that cinematic effect from start to finish [to] really draw players into the roles they'll [assume] and the experiences they're in store for.
The benefits of this kind of detail are hard to specifically point out. I sometimes play games where the sound feels superimposed or disembodied from the characters or events in the game. In Call of Duty: Finest Hour, we use the sound to help each event feel natural, or organic, to the gameworld that we've created. The weapons should feel right, the bullet impacts should scare the player, and the dialogue should be real. For me, the best way I know how to achieve these goals is to work long and hard, paying special attention to the details along the way.
- Release Date: Dec 3, 2004 (EU)
- PEGI: 16+